The Bottom Line: Commercially Accountable Marketing

It’s easy to get carried away with engagement metrics. We’re hardly short of choice, with digital platforms offering increasingly granular data on increasingly ‘zoomed in’ scales and measurements. But occasionally, we need to take a step back and turn our attention to the only metric that really matters – commercial success.

Sounds easy, right? In practice though, the shiny new engagement metrics that we are introduced to often take precedence over commercial metrics such as order volumes, order values, revenue and profit. Plus, the road from campaign metric to commercial metric is often muddied and unclear. Navigating it can be a daunting task.

But unless the marketing team remains focused on the long-term goals of the business, usually anchored around commercial growth rather than short-term campaign success, the brand can often lose its way.

The ‘short-termist’ marketer

It’s quite ironic in fact that digital marketers—who have probably spent a long time understanding how to build ‘gamification’ into their campaigns in order to engage consumers—actually get wrapped up in their own ‘game’ of getting the next 100 likes or followers or shares, or reducing bounce rate by another 0.5%. We set these short-term goals and we obsess.

Unilever’s global director of creative excellence, Dan Izbicki, summed it up perfectly when he said:

We’re increasingly becoming short-termist, which is driven by our own behaviours, measurement systems and even our awards.

He went on to explain that: “We’ve become addicted to short-term measures. Shares and likes are very exciting and it’s great when you launch a new campaign to see all that stuff. It’s not to say that it’s not relevant, but there’s lots of evidence to show it doesn’t have much correlation to a brand’s success in the long term.”

The lack of correlation he mentions certainly puts things into perspective.

Pride, purpose and potential

It’s soooooo satisfying when the metric you’re tracking hits the golden number you set yourself as a target. 1,000 shares… oh yeah, that feels good. So much better than 999.

The question is; what are those 1,000 shares for? What is their purpose? Yes, there’s a sense of pride in it for the marketing team and arguably some vanity points for the brand-owner. But really, what are those 1,000 shares actually for? What happens next?

If the answer is increased brand presence, that’s fine… but what’s that for? If that brand presence is to increase new customer engagement, then that’s great… but what’s that for? ‘New customers’ are not a valuable metric on their own. I reckon I could sell pound coins for 50p and get lots of ‘new customers’ very quickly, but I doubt I could grow a sustainable business from it.

If you keep following the “what’s that for?” chain of thought, ultimately you’ll get to some sort of commercial accountability. The goal should be to make X sales, with Y profit, in Z amount of time. Then and only then can you say whether the campaign worked. Did those 1,000 shares actually make a difference to the bottom line?

I know what you’re thinking – that’s way over-simplified. And I know that there are usually too many campaigns happening to truly measure the impact of one or another after say 12-months of activity. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. At the very least, you should plan your campaigns by calculating the potential value. Always ask yourself “what’s that for?” until you reach a measurable commercial goal. Measuring it afterwards is a whole other kettle of fish, but at least your campaign plan will be built around the right metrics.

Putting data in it’s place

Some people simply have a deep distrust of data. They look at numbers and see nothing more than a barrier to creativity, a siren-song for ‘best practice’ mediocrity and an insult to their better instincts. Numbers represent generalities and tell us what ‘already is’… they might not tell us enough about previously undefined segments or what ‘could be’.

Equally, some people just love a good database or Analytics review. They see data as an enabler, facilitating good decision-making with pinpoint accuracy. Plan, test, analyse, refine, repeat… that mantra has lead many marketers to success.

Safe data or risky creative? That is the question.

Regardless of your personal feelings, one potential issue is that most marketing teams will comprise many differing opinions on the matter. There has to be a top-down, organisational consensus on how much marketers should lean on data versus their instinct, otherwise things will inevitably get messy.

PepsiCo have a very interesting approach where they take a marketing channel, utilise analytical data to optimise it so that it generates the same commercial value from 20-30% less spend, then rather than scaling up that channel they invest the newly freed-up budget on experimental channels instead. This is a commitment to innovation, R&D, path-finding and long-term success.

After all, short-term metrics might tell us how we’re performing right now, but in a world with new channels and opportunities opening up all the time, can you really afford to be left behind?

Posted by Paul

Paul is our Head of Marketing and strategy specialist. He has worked on award-winning campaigns for household-name brands, SMEs and public sector organisations since 2003.

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